Financial inclusion is still low in Mozambique, but a program to install cashless mini ATMs could provide a solution for improving financial access, especially in rural areas.

According to the World Bank report “Enhancing Financial Capability and Inclusion in Mozambique: A Demand-Side Assessment" (2014), only 52% of Mozambican adults have used banking products or services. The reasons for this vary, from lack of financial education or funds to the walking distance between households and the closest bank branch. In fact, Mozambique is a big and still largely rural country and, consequently, even stocking ATMs with cash is a relatively expensive process.

An interesting project for the coming years that will improve access to financial services and decrease the average distance between people and banking services is the cashless or mini-ATMs project. TBY learned about this development for the first time with Carlos García, General Director of Soluções. He told TBY that the project was imminent and that the software was currently being tested and finalized. These ATMs look like regular ATM devices, but do not provide cash, instead giving users a coupon, slip, or voucher that can be used to buy or get money from a cashier at a shop. This is an advantage both for clients and cashiers, as it decreases direct cash handling. Geographically, this project is most likely to improve daily life in rural areas, as cities already have easier access to regular ATMs or bank branches.

TBY also talked to Carlos Street, Managing Director of Interbancos, the company that has developed and will install and maintain these cashless ATMs. He explained that the machines are smaller and cheaper than regular ATMs but have all the same functionalities. In fact, the mini ATMs will accept transactions with or without cards, and can be used to carry out service claims, buy electricity, or pay for other utilities. In the coming two years, Interbancos expects to install about 600 to 700 machines across the country.

According to Street, this idea was inspired by the use of POS machines in South Africa as a way of withdrawing money. “However here [in Mozambique], this is not the right way to go, as usually it is not the customer who manages the POS but rather the merchant. When the customer sees that they need to manage the POS, they are not totally uncomfortable." He explained to TBY “we took that idea but we changed the POS into a mini ATM that we are trying to make almost the same as a standard ATM. This ensures that the client is not intimidated by the machine, especially outside urban areas."

It is imperative that this project goes hand-in-hand with financial education because, after all, there is no point in installing devices all over the country if people do not know how to use them or do not understand the operations that can be done. This project has the potential to benefit not only direct users but also the government's savings as it will bring individuals and SMEs into the formal market. According to a FinScope survey (2012), around 75% of the micro and SMEs in the country are financially excluded. Despite the low financial inclusion index, Street told TBY that Mozambique has “almost every kind of product in electronic banking, including prepaid, credit cards, debit cards, and national and international wallets." He explained that the next step would be a virtual POS, meaning that payments could be made without any POS using a cell phone or some other device.

It is surprising that most African countries are more advanced in terms of mobile banking than some countries in the occidental world and that customers make regular payments by using their phone. Mozambique in particular is one of the few examples where the financial sector is the owner of a mobile wallet called Cónta Móvel, connected by Interbancos system. This system competes with the wallets of cell phone operators such as Vodacom's mPesa or Mcell's mKesh. The number of people using the mobile wallet system in Mozambique is currently estimated to be at around 1 million, but very few people are optimistic about these numbers growing exponentially unless the different wallet networks are integrated.